Posted by: mollymuellner | October 8, 2021

Advertising American Spirit

After looking at and discussing the Sinclair’s soap advertisement, I thought of a similar, soap-sized product does anything but clean or make life easier: cigarettes. The Sinclair’s ad features a monumental bar of soap, eerily suspended like the monolith in Stanely Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, above a scene of pastoral feminine harmony. The bar seems to have been dropped out of a heavenly opening in the sky, it’s descent observed by an angel, and it’s presence gracing the domestic scene with a promise of sophisticated yet easy labor. 

PC: Loeb, Consuming Angels

An ad I saw recently by the tobacco company Natural American Spirits also features an artificial product that does not stand out, but does everything to disguise itself with the natural world.

PC: Mind Over Matter – Media Education Lab

If American Spirit hadn’t been my brand of choice when I smoked cigarettes, I don’t know that I would have registered this as an ad for a tobacco company. Did you? 

On the left there is stated the devotion to the earth and promise of cleaning up cigarette litter, on the right page is a special offer to purchase more cigarette litter. 

The pack of cigarettes is both disguised and dominant in the visual landscape of this advertisement, not dissimilar to the contradicting messages in the text. The yellow hue of their most popular flavor uncompromisingly forms a cloudless sky over an untouched mountainous terrain that is reminiscent of the romanticized Rocky Mountains. Pictured in profile on every pack is the companies logo outlined against the red circle which functions now as a setting sun. The American Indian chief holding up a peace pipe is colossal in scale and pointedly solo. 

If all text were removed and the faint shadow of the pack erased, the picture could pass as a sad and symbolic reflection of the US history of diminishing, depriving, and attempting to imprison as history the population of Indigenous Americans.

But that is not the case. A major Amerrican tobacco brand is using native imagery to naturalize and downplay the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes on the planet and it’s population. The peace pipe was often used in spiritual ceremony and treated as an object of respect, here it functions to appropriate and elevate the status of cigarettes as an everyday, for everyone, commodity. 

Natural American Spirits are produced by Santa Fe Natural Tobacco, a subsidiary branch of R.J. Reynolds which is the second-largest tobacco company in the United States and also parents Camel, Newport, and Pall Mall. 

PC: San Francisco Examiner

Displaying a near rainbow across the shelf, the brand is eye-catching and easy to distinguish against the other packs with bland colors, more basic designs, and greater nominal weight. But does that matter? Unlike soap, cigarettes cannot attempt to offer help, everyone knows about the health risks of smoking, and if you somehow managed to escape those, there are government warning labels required to be on 3 separate sides of each box. I don’t know anyone who picked up smoking for the irresistible packaging, I know a lot of people who started because it was what the people around them did.

Aware of the health hazards, I smoked my first cigarette when I was 13 because I wanted to look “cool”. I learned quickly from my liberal but edgy 14-year-old  idols that it was not cool to just “smoke anything”, you had to smoke Spirits.  

“They’re better for the earth you know,” mid-drag, “and really strong.” Performatively lengthened exhale. “But that’s just because they don’t have the additives in other cigs, they hit harder because they’re natural.” 

They do “hit harder” but it’s because they have a higher nicotine content than other cigarettes and therefore higher addictive potential. They have just as many toxicants and cancer-causing chemicals as other commercial brands.  

PC: Truth Initiative 

And it says so on the box! See the bottom line in tiny print. 

In addition to greater harm in the specific brand, their marketing is more harmful. Unable to argue that cigarettes are healthy, they market within the bounds of addiction offering moral justification for an  environmentally conscious audience that has not yet given up hope to one day quit. 

Tobacco sells itself as a commodity to people who are already hooked, and American Spirit puts extra work into keeping them hooked. 

Loeb, Lori Anne, Consuming Women: Advertising and Victorian Women 

“What Is the Native American Peace Pipe?”,

Plain, Charlie. “Cigarettes Marketed as ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ Are Loaded with Nicotine and Toxicants, Just like Other Cigarettes – School of Public Health – University of Minnesota.” School of Public Health, 8 July 2019, Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.

“Saving San Francisco’s Ban on Candy-Flavored Tobacco Products.” The San Francisco Examiner, 6 May 2018, Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.

“2000 Surgeon General’s Report Highlights: Warning Labels.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 July 2015, 

“Home Page.” Reynolds American, 

“Are Organic or Natural Cigarettes Safer to Smoke?” Truth Initiative,


  1. Molly, this is a really interesting connection to the present. It’s intriguing to see how advertising changes depending on the product, as well as the methods companies use to sell. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: